The Nintendo Entertainment System
Many of my earliest memories of my family involve us sitting around our giant Game Room television and playing our family Nintendo Entertainment System (my dad, sister, and I would take turns playing while my mom would watch). We probably didn't get one until 1989 or 1990, but both the NES and I are products of 1985 (not counting the Famicom's 1983 Japanese release), so I have always felt a connection to Nintendo and this system began my 20-plus year relationship with the company. Save the Virtual Boy, I've owned every major Nintendo console or handheld. Not included below but an honorable mention: the Game Genie. Yes, it was cheating but how else were we supposed to get through Battletoads or the seaweed level in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?! Game designers used to be way bigger dicks to kids and the Game Genie was sometimes the only lifeline. Plus you only got 3 codes so you couldn't cheat that much. (And I actually did beat both of those games without the Game Genie but they were still fucking hard as hell). Anyway, on to the games that did make my list.
Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt - Anyone who has been playing video games as long as I have and doesn't have Super Mario Bros. on their list is a dirty liar. It would be a very different industry if we'd never gotten this plumber with a genocidal hatred of turtles and the inability to run too far left. And fuck whoever on Duck Hunt said "let's have the dog taunt you, but you can't shoot him."
Super Mario Bros. 2 - While there are a lot of people who rag on this game, I enjoyed it. In part, because I didn't find out until years later that it wasn't a Mario game at the onset and just got re-skinned because he'd gotten so popular over here in the States. But I remember thinking how cool it was that each of the four characters handled so differently (though there really wasn't any beating Princess Toadstool's floating jumps). It's a shame so many characters from this entry have been forgotten by the franchise, never to return. But at least it gave us Birdo, a creature whose very existence is a lot creepier when seen through the eyes of an adult, instead of the child I was when the game came out.
Super Mario Bros. 3 - One of my favorite Mario games, which makes sense given that the whole construct of the game is that of a play. But there's also the fact that my sister and I would play this together during our sibling rivalry years and I would use my advanced knowledge (i.e. Nintendo Power magazine) to get all the Warp Whistles and get through the game waaaaaay before her.
Tetris - I still can't play this game for too long without losing the ability to sleep because the bricks will just continue to fall in my mind's eye. But sometimes, it's just worth it.
Mega Man 2 - Despite my less than favorable review of the Mega Man Legacy Collection, Mega Man 2 still stands out as one of the great games from this system (though I don't think I appreciated the anachronism of a robot like Wood Man until Wood Bender on Futurama 15 years later).
Dragon Warrior IV - This was my first foray into the Dragon Warrior/Dragon Quest games. Odd that this is the only game listed that I can't find in my collection because I remember I lent my copy of Final Fantasy II on Super Nintendo to my friend Nick for his copy of this game in the 5th grade. Then he moved away over the summer and we never traded back. Anyway: loved this game and its story structure of playing a different story/set of characters in each chapter until they all come together in the final chapter. The monotony of the merchant Taloon was oddly my favorite. I would work in his shop way longer than I needed to just to save up enough money so I could buy the rare Sword of Malice that someone would pawn off to his shop.
StarTropics - I have fond memories of playing through this early action-adventure game with my dad. And I still have the manual for the game somewhere, which was imperative as there was a special code in there that was required at a certain point in the game.
Rampage - I absolutely loved playing through this game with my sister. We'd set a pact where we promised we wouldn't eat each other if we took too much damage and reverted from our monster to tiny puny human self. And then I'd always accidentally eat her anyway.
Paperboy - I was never a paperboy in real life. Maybe because I wasn't prepared to fend off dogs, cars, stunt-filled junkyards, and Death.
A Boy and His Blob - I didn't actually own this game growing up. But my grandmother who lived in Michigan did (yep, my grandmother on my dad's side loved video games, which is pretty freakin' awesome if you ask me). Both of my parents have a lot of family in Michigan so when we were younger, we took a lot of family trips back there. And when we stayed at my grandma's house, we always got to play her Nintendo and this is one of the games I remember best from those trips. Giving the Blob different-flavored jelly beans to get him to shape-shift and solve the puzzles was a blast. It was a hard game too so there was a huge sense of accomplishment when we figured something out. We'd all play together (one person playing, everyone else making suggestions) but I don't remember if we ever actually beat it.
Spot: The Video Game - This is definitely a dumb one but - like A Boy and His Blob - gives me fond memories of my grandmother's house. Shortly after graduating high school, my dad and I went to Michigan for a few days to help my grandmother pack up her upstairs library. She'd gotten up there in years. Her vision was mostly going and she couldn't really walk up and down the narrow, spiral staircase that connected the three levels of her home (library upstairs, bedroom/kitchen/living room on the main floor, game room/guest rooms downstairs). On that trip, she gave me her old Nintendo, so I packed that and the games up and brought them back with me. After years boxed up in my studio apartment, they're now on display (with my own original collection) in my game room. Among the games in her collection was Spot: The Video Game, a really cheesy multi-player puzzle game (not to be confused with the platformer on the Super Nintendo or Genesis) starring Spot, the red dot in the 7-Up logo (who, like many ad campaigns of the 80s/90s, wore sunglasses and had a cool attitude). But I love this game because it brings back great memories of playing across three generations with my grandmother, father, and sister.
So that's my nostalgia-fueled list of my favorite games on the Nintendo Entertainment System. It's of course nowhere near being a comprehensive one as there are still a ton of classics I left out. The Legend of Zelda and it's sequel, for example, are certainly worthy of a best of list, they're just not my favorites. What were some of yours? Tweet at me or let me know in the comments below.